Wednesday, 17 January 2018

UFC Fight Night 124 Blog: Usman should ignore the boos after thrashing Meek


By Alistair Hendrie

If the purpose of competition is to dominate your opponent as clinically as possible, Kamaru Usman did exactly that when he shut out Emil Meek on Sunday at UFC Fight Night 124. Although the crowd weren’t happy with Usman’s suffocating style of wrestling, the stats don’t lie. Not only did the sturdy welterweight land eight takedowns, he also scored 76% of his significant strikes. The St Louis crowd, booing in their droves, would have you think the Blackzilians welterweight stalled proceedings on the mat, whereas he in fact landed a higher number of strikes, and at a higher percentage. It seemed there was no pleasing the paying public, who jeered as Usman controlled the action on the mat.

Did Usman care? Of course not. He played up to his as boo-boy image, using his post-fight interview to declare: “I fought this fight sitting at about 30% and I still dominated a tough, so-called Viking... Dana, I'm coming to sit with you and then we can talk.” When Dana White also said he “didn’t love the fight,” Usman clarified his comments on social media and revealed that he fought at 30% of his health.

In his post-fight speech, Usman went further, and barked: “Listen, Colby (Covington), you can run but you can’t hide. The Nigerian Nightmare is looking for you, and I’m gonna find you.” That’s trash talk 101 right there, gunning for another in-form and relevant motor-mouth who doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers.

So, although the UFC brass may not be handing Usman any Fight of the Night bonuses just yet, Usman’s recent victories and brash persona on the mic make him a formidable and marketable prospect. Sure, he’s been painted as a villain, but it’s a role he’s accepted and carried out better than anyone could hope for. Moving forward, he’s wise to recognise that this is the era of the bad guy. He and fellow welters Covington and Mike Perry have embraced the heel role in the past 18 months - all three have built their profiles in the process.



Keep in mind, too, Usman isn’t the first man to grind out a decision on the ground. Two of the best fighters in the world, Georges St-Pierre and Demetrious Johnson, have both wrestled their way to title defences without exerting themselves. Were they booed by those in the stands? Of course they weren’t. I’m not claiming Usman’s performance against Meek was highlight reel material, but it was nowhere near as unedifying as some would have you believe.

Usman probed with knees to the thighs, stayed a step ahead of his opponent, looked to take the back on numerous occasions, and also landed a handful of audacious suplexes. Always hooking limbs and maintaining safe head positioning, he exhibited a technical display of wrestling which should be appreciated. Fans pay for an evening’s entertainment and have a right to voice their opinions, but I disagree with the vitriol aimed as Usman. Not everyone likes wrestling-orientated tactics, but it’s a part of the sport.

Of course, Usman can fight a bit too, and packs serious power as evidenced by his four consecutive TKOs before joining the UFC. A thick-set 170lb-er with imposing core strength, he throws a broad selection of punches when he decides to trade and always uses a high guard and astute head movement.

Ironically enough, Usman and Covington’s styles might not gel for an all-out war, but the fact is that Usman is a smart fighter with his head screwed on. He could stand and bang if he wanted to, but he’s in the sport to learn, progress and get to the very top. He should also gain solace in the fact that Floyd Mayweather Jr and the Klitschko brothers were accused to playing it safe in their careers. Let’s face it, with that trio’s achievements, legacies and earnings, should they care about a few detractors? Don’t bet on it. As long as Usman keeps proving his skills and selling his name, he can forget the boos and play the bad guy all he wants.

Read more UFC reaction from Alistair Hendrie Sport, as a new contender emerges for Cyborg after her victory at UFC 219. 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

UFC Fight Night 124 Preview: Stephens and Choi face off in potential thriller


By Alistair Hendrie

The UFC kicks off 2018 in style on Sunday, as featherweight finishers Jeremy Stephens and Doo Ho Choi throw down in the UFC Fight Night 124 main event in St Louis. The contest is a welcome return for the MMA leader, and both men will look to set off the fireworks they’re renowned for.

Competing out of Alliance MMA in San Diego, Stephens is a dogged veteran with eleven years of experience in the UFC. Owing to his explosive striking and variety of attacks, he boasts knockout victories over the likes of Rafael dos Anjos, Dennis Bermudez and Cole Miller. He uses left-right combinations and well-disguised leg kicks, and like his rival, he enjoys pushing the pace to take his opponents into deep waters.

However, that’s exactly where Choi went at UFC 206 in December 2016, when he fought hell for leather with Cub Swanson before dropping a decision. In a bout that thrilled fans from start to finish, Choi dominated the opener with ramrod lead rights before succumbing to Swanson’s brawling tactics. And, boy, did they brawl. Decked on three occasions, Choi showed heart and endurance to ship tremendous punishment in the final round, even firing back and dishing out his own strikes.


Against Stephens, though, the South Korean should try to avoid circling with his back to the fence. Having already ran through Sam Sicilia and Thiago Tavares inside a round, it will be interesting to see if Choi can assert his crisp one-twos and defend Stephens’ wider punches. Whatever happens, it promises to be a frenetic encounter with plenty of action – don’t expect it to go to the ground, either. Choi should earn a decision or KO with his greater clout.

Speaking of powerful strikers, the middleweight co-main event was meant to feature Vitor Belfort against Uriah Hall. However, the contest was cancelled when Hall pulled out shortly before the weigh-in, stating that his body had shut down. It's another tale of a fighter struggling to handle the weight cut, while Belfort could now face Michael Bisping in London in March.

So, at the time of writing, it looks like Paige VanZant's debut at 125lbs, against Australian boxer Jessica-Rose Clark, could be the new co-main. An economical striker from Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California, VanZant may have dipped to 1-2 in her last three fights, but the American looked outstanding when stopping Bec Rawlings with a perfectly timed head kick in August 2016.



On the other hand, Clark possesses a broader range of punches and outpointed Rawlings in November 2017. A natural 125lb-er who leads with uppercuts and hooks on the inside, the Aussie should enter as favourite and can box her way to a decision if she stays smart.

Welterweight pair Kamaru Usman and Emil Meek also feature on the main card, with the winner becoming a big player at 170lbs.  Usman, now based at Blackzilians, is renowned for walking his opponents down to seal decisions, while Meek, the Norwegian, is another versatile striker who mixes it up with body kicks and leg kicks. The victor? I’ll be bold and opt for Usman via a barrage of punches.

Heading up the main portion of the card is a featherweight showdown between Darren Elkins and Michael Johnson. All things considered, it promises to be a fan-friendly fight. Elkins thrives on adversity, as shown by his thrilling comeback over Mirsad Bectic in March 2017, while Johnson put on one of the fights of 2017 with Justin Gaethje in July, eventually succumbing to “The Highlight”’s pressure in round two. The smart money lies with Johnson.

Before that match, on UFC Fight Pass Prelims, two lightweight battles take place with James Krause going against Alex White, and Matt Frevola squaring up to Marco Polo Reyes. There's a bantamweight dance between Talita Bernardo and Irene Aldana, while Kyung Ho Kang and Guido Cannetti lock horns to move up the featherweight rankings. Elsewhere, Thiago Alves against Zak Cummings at 170lbs was also cancelled when Cummings slipped in the bath.

Early UFC Fight Pass Prelims feature a flyweight tussle between Kalindra Faria and Jessica Eye, and a bantamweight meeting between Talita Bernardo and Irene Aldana. Starting off the card are strawweights Danielle Taylor and JJ Aldrich, and 145lbs hopefuls Mads Burnell and Mike Santiago.

After Choi and Stephens have traded punches in the Octagon, head straight back to Alistair Hendrie Sport for the latest reaction. 

Alistair Hendrie professional portfolio


I'm a freelance sports journalist with experience writing for publications such as Boxing News, Mirror.co.uk, Fighters Only and MMA Plus.

Specialising primarily in combat sports, I'm currently seeking freelance opportunities so please email me at allyh84@hotmail.com or contact me on Twitter.

Career highlights

  • Earned first national byline with Mirror.co.uk in 2013, pitching and writing feature on women's MMA in Britain
  • Worked in fast-paced environment at Mirror.co.uk, conducting reports at UFC events in Poland, Dublin and Glasgow, submitting reports to a deadline
  • Displayed creative nous and SEO knowledge at Mirror.co.uk, writing list pieces such as 11 things you need to know about Saul "Canelo" Alvarez
  • Developed communication skills at MMA Plus when interviewing the likes of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Joanne Calderwood and Rory MacDonald
  • Released Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain, in November 2017, carrying out project in an independent manner
Samples of work













Please get in touch if you require blogs, interviews, reports or features, and stay tuned to Alistair Hendrie Sport for all my latest work. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Women's MMA: Tyrell eyes Green rematch after signing with War Fight Management


By Alistair Hendrie

Southampton strawweight Bryony Tyrell is eager to avenge her draw to Lanchana Green after signing a deal with War Fight Management.

Tyrell pushed Green all the way in September 2017, and after almost finishing her rival with punches from full mount, she hopes Jim Wallhead’s management team can earn her a return contest.

“Obviously the Green rematch is a perfect match for me,” said Tyrell, 38, 4-1-1. “That’s a fight I’d really want, I’d love that fight. It can happen for any promotion and after our first meeting, I had it in mind that I’d retire if I lost, so now that I’ve got the draw I’ve got a bit of a second wind and want to carry on.

“That draw has spurred me on and now I want to prove definitively that I can beat her - I feel better, fitter and stronger than ever before.”

And after fighting three times in 2017 – also going down to Kate Jackson and outscoring Griet Eeckhout – Tyrell anticipates a similarly active 2018.

She admits the increased opportunities are one of her main reasons for signing with War Fight Management, who also count the likes of featherweights Dean Trueman and James Dixon among their clients.

“Getting my name out there is one of the biggest reasons why I signed with War Fight Management. I know that I’ve done well on the domestic shows but I’m not getting the bigger shows like Cage Warriors or BAMMA.

“Both promotions have approached me but nothing happened in the end, so if I have a management team behind me like all the other fighters, I might have a few more opportunities, and people who can help with opportunities for training, publicity and sponsorship.



She added: “Jim asked me what I wanted and I said more chances to fight, especially as I’m getting on a bit. Me and Jim were very much on the same wavelength and he said how in the past, he’s had managers who don’t back up their plans and just want loads of money.

“I’ve had other management companies contact me with these horrendous contracts, and you have to sign your life over and you don’t really know who you’re dealing with. These guys have been completely different and they’re really easy-going.”

Moreover, Tyrell believes Wallhead could help her find a higher level of female training partners.

“Jim told me about the training sessions he organises, which would be really good for me because at my gym, Exile Gym in Southampton, I don’t have any other women who are pro level. Just to train with other women, or even smaller male bantamweights or flyweights, would be really good for me.

“Finding other women to train and fight with has always been difficult for me, especially because of my job as a critical care nurse and my children. It’s difficult for me to travel for fight camps, but that’s something I’d love to do soon. I still feel like I’ve got time to improve and if Jim wants to sign me, then that just proves it.”  

To discover more about the women's MMA scene in Britain, read an extract from Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

UFC 219 Blog: Why Cyborg-Anderson needs to happen next


By Alistair Hendrie

Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino is used to success. She’s currently riding a nine-fight winning streak, each triumph as impressive and violent as the last. She stands as the first Strikeforce women’s featherweight titlist, and the first Invicta featherweight queen. Very few women in mixed martial arts have romped through their careers with such dominance and superiority as the explosive Brazilian. Her decision over Holly Holm on Saturday, at UFC 219, added even more shine to her 21-1-1 NC ledger, but did it add to her reputation? Perhaps not.

Although Cyborg was rarely endangered in her first title defence, I for one expected her to run through Holm. Trouble is, she didn’t. Despite her advantages in power and her greater pedigree at 145lbs – Holm now slips to 0-2 in the division – she spent the first two rounds throwing strikes which were largely blocked or parried. It was the first time Cyborg has been extended to a decision since 2008 and, really and truly, Cris should have got her rival out of there with her superior mauy Thai and larger tendency to walk opponents down. To prove her dominance, what she now needs is a crunch match with Invicta FC’s featherweight leader, Megan Anderson.

In my eyes at least, what makes this match-up so interesting is Anderson’s size. At 6 foot and with a 77.5inch reach, she boasts a three inch height advantage and a mammoth nine and a half inch reach advantage on Cyborg. Anderson is an imposing specimen, with long legs helping her maintain her range, and huge lats helping her generate plenty of upper body strength. Indeed, the two were scheduled to meet at UFC 214 until Anderson pulled out due to the personal reasons. Like Cyborg, Megan likes a finish, too.

Now with four TKO stoppages on the spin, Anderson’s last success, at Invicta FC 21 in January 2017, was a systematic beat-down of Charmaine Tweet, another Cyborg victim who once fought at 155lbs. Anderson measured the distance perfectly to land fluid strikes, the jab and head kick in particular, and upped the tempo in round two to finish matters for good with a crescendo of strikes to the head and body, leaving Tweet turning away and cowering into a ball against the fence. It was an artistic and technical display of violence which Cyborg would be proud of.



Training with the likes of James Krause and Zak Cummings at Glory MMA in Kansas City, Missouri, Anderson uses her size well but can be hit on the inside, surely something Cyborg would look to exploit. She uses head positioning and overhooks well against the fence but, as Cindy Dandois revealed when submitting the Aussie in 2015, she can be vulnerable on the ground. That could bode well for Cyborg, who keeps an active pace when posturing up and also looks for armlocks such as americanas and kimuras.

We can live in hope that this match-up happens after Cyborg’s run-of-the-mill assignment with Holm, and this bout should be a priority for the UFC with their featherweight division lacking any suitable contenders or formidable prospects. Thankfully, what with the UFC’s prior intention to put Anderson in with the champion, it looks like it could happen soon.

After all, the UFC would have you believe Cyborg against Holm at UFC 219 was great against great, two of the best to do it. In truth, it wasn’t. Cyborg lacks high-profile wins in recent years, and Holm, who now sits at 1-4 in her last five, has been beset by a lack of versatility in her MMA striking and a series of dull fights. Consider bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes’s run of triumphs over Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey and Valentina Shevchenko and you’ll see a truly legendary run of form.

And although UFC commentator Jon Anik and many more have pointed to an all-Brazilian showdown between Nunes and Cyborg, Cris should face a fully-fledged, in-form featherweight instead. Anderson is exactly that.

That danger is that the MMA public will grow bored of Cyborg’s dominance and she’ll suffer the same problem as flyweight pace-setter Demetrious Johnson, who is probably the best fighter in the world but still has his critics because of a shallow pool of contenders. Anderson is the only fight that makes sense for the UFC women’s 145lbs queen. The division needs the fight. Anderson needs the fight, but most of all, Cyborg needs the fight for her legacy.

To see more of my writing on women's MMA, delve into my Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain